Your Guide to Stopping E. Coli Before It Starts
Most E. coli bacteria are harmless — and even part of a healthy human intestinal tract. But some are more dangerous, causing illness and even death.
Escherichia coli, better known as E. coli bacteria, normally live in the intestines of people and animals. But while most E. coli are harmless — and even part of a healthy human intestinal tract — some are more dangerous and can cause illness.
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One in six Americans will get sick from food poisoning this year alone, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While most people will recover without any lasting effects from their illness, the effects for some can be devastating and even deadly.
Symptoms of E. coli poisoning often mirror a viral infection, but many times are more severe and persist longer, says emergency medicine specialist John Tafuri, MD.
Eating undercooked meat or contaminated produce is the most common cause of E. coli poisoning, Dr. Tafuri says. It also is possible to become infected from fruit and vegetables that have been contaminated by animal fecal matter, he says.
Symptoms of E. coli poisoning include stomach cramping and diarrhea. These symptoms surface three to five days after you ingest the contaminated food.
In severe cases, diarrhea may become bloody, in which case Dr. Tafuri advises seeking medical attention immediately.
Ingesting E. coli poses a risk to everyone. But Dr. Tafuri warns that those with a weakened immune systems — older adults, children, chemotherapy patients and pregnant women — need to be especially careful.
“Children in particular, tend to develop complications of E. coli infections,” Dr. Tafuri says. “Sometimes these can be life-threatening and because children are at particular risk, we need to be very concerned about them.”
E. coli can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome, in which the toxins produced from diarrhea can get into the blood stream and damage the kidneys, Dr. Tafuri says. This condition can be lethal for children.
While supportive treatment can be very helpful, prevention is the No. 1 strategy against E. coli poisoning, Dr. Tafuri says. That means proper precautions at home when handling meat and uncooked food.
“Preventing the illness from the start by thorough cooking, thorough hygiene as far how you cut your meat, and the utensils, and items you use, is the most important thing,” Dr. Tafuri says. “If you prevent the illness in the first place, you avoid having to worry about treating it down the road.”
Here, courtesy of the CDC, are ways you can avoid E coli poisoning at home
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